Nation’s Report Card Reveals Remote Learning Devastated Arizona Students’ Intellect

Nation’s Report Card Reveals Remote Learning Devastated Arizona Students’ Intellect

By Corinne Murdock |

It appears the costs of pandemic-era remote learning far outweighed the benefits, based on the average student’s comprehension in math and reading.

According to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data released Monday, Arizona students were middle of the pack in a nationwide decline. The state’s scoring revealed severe learning losses in math and nominal losses in reading. 

READ HERE: ARIZONA REPORT CARD

Nationwide, the NAEP report revealed a negative correlation between remote learning and learning loss. Chalkbeat displayed the correlation through graphs. Public schools and large cities experienced the greatest decline in math scores. 

READ HERE: 2022 NAEP FULL REPORT

In a press release, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) associate commissioner Daniel McGrath warned that learning losses in math could limit STEM candidates. 

“Eighth grade is a pivotal moment in students’ mathematics education, as they develop key mathematics skills for further learning and potential careers in mathematics and science,” said McGrath. “If left unaddressed, this could alter the trajectories and life opportunities of a whole cohort of young people, potentially reducing their abilities to pursue rewarding and productive careers in mathematics, science, and technology.”

The scores come after several years of Democratic leaders advocating for school closures amid the pandemic.

Julie Gunnigle, Democratic candidate for Maricopa County attorney, claimed in an August 2020 interview that remote learning would make kids smarter and stronger. Throughout the pandemic, she insisted that schools be restructured to prevent COVID-19 transmission before reopening.

“I think these kids are going to come out a lot stronger than, for example, my generation is. Like, having to cope with all of this. And a lot smarter, too,” said Gunnigle. “They’re going to be really prepared to brave this, well, brave new technological world.”

Last October, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told NPR that the number of school age-youth with mental health issues rose from 13-22 percent to 80 percent over the course of the pandemic. Last December, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy reported that the pandemic caused a mental health crisis in the nation’s youth. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic further altered [youth] experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating,” stated Murthy.

Kathy Hoffman, incumbent Arizona Department of Education (ADE) superintendent, advocated for remote learning as recently as January. Like Gunnigle, Hoffman insisted that preventing COVID-19 illness was more important than an in-person education.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Katie Hobbs Selects Progressive Project Leader For Youth Leadership Award

Katie Hobbs Selects Progressive Project Leader For Youth Leadership Award

By Corinne Murdock |

Last month, Secretary of State and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs announced this year’s John Lewis Youth Leadership Award winner: a leader of a project launched by Democratic money forces. 

The winner, Arizona State University (ASU) student Anusha Natarajan, is the vice chair of Campus Vote Project (CVP): an initiative by the Fair Elections Center (formerly the Fair Elections Legal Network), a left-wing activist nonprofit launched by New Venture Fund, a subsidiary nonprofit to the Democratic money behemoth Arabella Advisors.

The Fair Elections Center launched CVP in 2012. According to the available tax return data, from 2017 to 2019, Fair Elections Center gave CVP over $1.1 million. Their 2020 and 2021 funding reports aren’t available yet. 

Fair Elections Center has received millions collectively, including from various principal bankrollers of the national Democratic money network such as the Democracy Fund, the Open Society Foundations (formerly the Open Society Institute), and Tides Foundation.

CVP advocates for election reforms such as accepting student IDs as a valid form of voter ID, abolishing voter ID for online registration, allowing same-day voter registration, removing proof of campus residency, granting voting rights to all individuals regardless of past convictions or incarceration status, establishing universal mail-in voting, expanding early voting, and increasing drop box locations. Arizona doesn’t accept student ID as a valid form of voter ID. 

The CVP state coordinator for Arizona, Justa Lopez, is an ASU graduate seeking a master’s degree in public administration. Lopez formerly worked with Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-03), League of Arizona Cities and Towns, and Phoenix City Councilwoman Yassamin Ansari. 

According to an archived version of their website from 2019, CVP partnered with American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) American Democracy Project, American Association of University Women (AAUW), Andrew Goodman Foundation, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP) Black Youth Vote, Campus Compact, Campus Elections Engagement Project, Circle, Democracy Works, Education Votes, Election Protection, Feminist Majority Foundation, NASPA, Generation Progress, HACU, iCitizen, Inspire US, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, League of United Latin American Citizens, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), National Campus Leadership Council (NCLC), Young Invincibles, United States Student Association, Rock the Vote, Roosevelt Institute, The Democracy Commitment, and Bridge Alliance.

CVP no longer lists its partner organizations on its website. Most recently, they announced MTV as a partner.

The two runners-up for this year’s John Lewis Youth Leadership Award were Natalie Collings, Mohave County voter registration supervisor, and Greyson Taylor, a Grand Canyon University (GCU) graduate student as well as co-founder and director of African American Reconstruction, dedicated to increasing affirmative action-style funding and hiring. 

Taylor was also nominated last year, one of 14 nominees named in the first year of the John Lewis Youth Leadership Award. Last year’s winner was Ayesha Ahsan: an Andrew Goodman Foundation ambassador like Natarajan as well as Natarajan’s successor for ASU’s Changemaker Central civic engagement chair. Ahsan, also a former ACLU of Arizona and Alliance for Justice intern, was awarded ASU’s Barrett Honors Thesis last year for declaring that policing doesn’t reduce crime, as part of a defense for defunding police. 

“Through this, I found no statistical significance to suggest that police spending reduces crime rates, which aligns with the argument that abolitionists make,” stated Ahsan. “Additionally, I found that public expenditures towards workforce training, housing and human services have much more impact in reducing crime rates than policing.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Latest ACT Data Shows Arizona Students Fall Below State Universities’ Standards

Latest ACT Data Shows Arizona Students Fall Below State Universities’ Standards

By Corinne Murdock |

According to the latest ACT scoring data, the average Arizona student doesn’t achieve an ACT score recommended as a minimum by Arizona State University (ASU), Northern Arizona University (NAU), and the University of Arizona (UArizona). 

On Tuesday, the ACT organization announced that the national average score for its eponymous college admissions test was the lowest it’s been in over 30 years: 19.8. However, Arizona fared worse: 18.3. The state’s students, on average, also fell below the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks.

If students go by their ACT scores, ASU requires first-year in-state applicants to have scored at least a 22 overall, while out-of-state applicants must score a 24. Both NAU and UArizona require freshmen applicants to score at least a 21 in English, 24 in math, and 20 in science.

All three universities present the ACT score as one of several possible criteria for admission, offering SAT scores, GPAs, and even certain courses taken as alternatives. During the pandemic, the three state universities made the SAT/ACT optional.

READ THE ACT’S NATIONAL REPORT

The organization noted in its state-by-state breakdown of data that the most accurate way to compare composite scores would be to compare the averages of states sharing similar percentages of graduates tested. 

Even within that context, Arizona fared poorly according to the 64 percent of student scores available for review. The state with the next-highest percentage of graduates tested, Missouri (66 percent), boasted a composite score of 20.12. The state with the next-lowest percentage of graduates tested, South Dakota (58 percent), boasted a composite score of 21.42. 

In a press release, ACT CEO Janet Godwin explained that this year of poor performance was the fifth consecutive year of decline: a “worrisome trend.” Godwin noted “longtime systemic failures” in the educational system, predating the pandemic, brought the nation’s students to this point. 

“A return to the pre-pandemic status quo would be insufficient and a disservice to students and educators,” stated Godwin. “These systemic failures require sustained collective action and support for the academic recovery of high school students as an urgent national priority and imperative.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Liz Cheney to ASU Students: Stop GOP Officials Campaigning For Trump-Backed Candidates Like Kari Lake

Liz Cheney to ASU Students: Stop GOP Officials Campaigning For Trump-Backed Candidates Like Kari Lake

By Corinne Murdock |

Ousted Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY) told Arizona State University (ASU) students to fight back and stop Republican leaders from coming to Arizona to campaign for Trump-backed candidates. Cheney suggested punishments for those GOP officials, as part of her remarks during the fifth installment of the ASU McCain Institute’s series “Defending American Democracy.” 

Cheney made an example of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), saying he should “know better” than coming to Arizona to campaign for Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake. Cruz attended a fundraising event for Lake on Wednesday. 

Yet shortly after giving that advice, Cheney lamented that “too often, conservative views are canceled.” Cheney also advised the students to vote for Democrats even if they’re Republicans. 

Shortly after her loss in August, Cheney launched a $15 million initiative through her political action committee (PAC) to defeat Trump-backed candidates.

At the opening of the ASU event, McCain Institute Executive Director Evelyn Farkus explained that Cheney was their latest guest speaker because she’s the “epitome of American political courage,” having sacrificed her political career by standing up for her values.

The McCain Institute’s first-ever Democracy Fellow, Sophia Gross, interviewed Cheney. Gross said Cheney exemplified a courage and set of values that young men and women should look up to in order to better themselves and serve their country.

The McCain Institute stated that the goal of the series is to advance citizens “beyond politics” in order to make America a city on a hill. It’s partially funded by the Knight Foundation, a left-leaning organization.

The four prior events in the “Defending American Democracy” series focused on the dangers of the decline and disappearance of local journalism, implications of verbal threats to election officials, protections for election infrastructure against cyberattacks, and plans to counteract hate.

In this event, Cheney fixed her remarks on several general topics: former President Donald Trump, January 6, and the Russo-Ukrainian War. 

Cheney said that the main lesson of the January 6 invasion of the Capitol was that institutions can’t defend themselves, it takes individuals. Cheney insinuated that government institutions were the victims — not citizens. Cheney also commended those who testified before her January 6 Committee: Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates, and Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers. Richer and Gates were reportedly present at the ASU event.

“Arizona and our nation owes Rusty a debt of gratitude,” said Cheney.

Concerning the January 6 invasion of the Capitol, Cheney claimed that Trump didn’t take action to stop the trespassers. She quickly backtracked with a self-correction, noting that the former president did take action but complained that it took him “187 minutes.” Cheney stated repeatedly that Trump was attempting to destroy democracy. 

“No nation can have a leader who is so derelict in his duty,” declared Cheney. 

At one point, Cheney predicted that the nation was heading toward a future as similar and troublesome as the Holocaust. She issued that prediction as she relayed a recent conversation with a young woman from Wyoming whose grandparents escaped the Holocaust. That young woman reportedly expressed worry to Cheney that America would no longer be a place of refuge like it was when her grandparents escaped.

“I think that’s a very real and serious concern,” said Cheney.

Cheney also said that she’s proud of the January 6 Committee, assuring the audience that it was non-partisan. Cheney said she most respects her fellow select committee and other Democrats, especially those women on the armed service committee. 

“I never imagined that I would find myself spending so much time with Democrats. I’m sure they’re surprised to be spending so much time with me as well,” said Cheney “Everybody should be represented by the people that they know are going to do the hard work.” 

Cheney said that America needs to get involved in Ukraine’s war against Russia. She said that was a hallmark of patriotism. Cheney also indicated that anyone opposed to her beliefs belonged to the “Russian” wing of the Republican Party. 

Toward the end of the event, Cheney opined that true patriotism meant an allegiance to a fundamental sense of human freedom, of inalienable rights from God and not the government.

“Being a patriot means first and foremost loving our country more. We can say to each other ‘we’re Democrats, we’re Republicans, but we love our country more,’ and we’ll act in accordance with that. That means you’ll put your country above politics, your political career,” said Cheney. 

Watch the full event below:

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Biden Administration Gives Arizona $20.8 Million For Mental Health Oversight in Schools 

Biden Administration Gives Arizona $20.8 Million For Mental Health Oversight in Schools 

By Corinne Murdock |

On Wednesday, the Department of Education (ED) announced the distribution of over $20.8 million to increase mental health oversight in Arizona schools.

The funds may be applied to a variety of mental, social, and emotional initiatives within schools. This includes school counseling, mentorships, and bullying and harassment prevention.

During a press call on Wednesday, the ED featured insight from Dr. Marty Pollio, the Jefferson County Public Schools superintendent in Louisville, Kentucky. Pollio said that the SCG funds allowed for three means of school improvement:

  1. Identify students in need and in crisis who need mental health support like counseling; 
  2. Reduce the counselor-to-student ratio;
  3. Train teachers on how to identify troubled students and support school personnel.

Pollio suggested that mental health professionals, such as board-certified behavioral analysts, should be deployed to classrooms to identify problematic students. 

“Educators have to do more than ever,” said Pollio.

AZ Free News asked the Biden administration whether they would be providing guidelines for behavior analysis enabled by SCG funds, such as what students would be deemed problematic as Pollio suggested. The ED said they weren’t providing guidelines. Rather, the ED said that level of management would be up to the states and districts. 

“[The SCG] allows states and districts to tailor their funds to each district and school,” said one of the officials. 

The funds come from the Strong Connections Grant (SCG) within the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA). Nationwide, grant funds totaled over $971 million.

ED Secretary Miguel Cardona asserted that teachers have been handling student behaviors on limited funding and resources, and that students behaved better with reduced disciplinary action and increased promotion of positive behavior. Cardona noted that in all, investments to improve mental health in schools through SCG total $1 billion. 

“We must broaden our focus beyond physically safe learning environments,” said Cardona. “If we’re serious about equity and opportunity, we must expand our definitions of learning and growth to include mental and emotional health.”

MORE ON THE STRONG CONNECTIONS GRANT

President Joe Biden’s special assistant for education policy, Maureen Tracey-Mooney, said that the SCG funds are designed for “high impact strategies” that would ultimately impact home life, such as counseling, tutoring, mentoring, and summer learning.

Earlier this month, Cardona sent a letter to the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) notifying them of this recent investment. Cardona’s letter provides educators with suggestions and guidelines on how to implement the SCG funding.

The ADE will decide which school districts will receive the SCG funds and oversee their expenditure. However, the ED retains the authority to audit and investigate schools’ use of the SCG funds. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.